The annual Cayman Cookout continues to be one of the mainstays of the culinary year and 2013’s event brought celebrity chefs back to the shores of paradise.
The Cookout comprises a series of demonstrations, dinners and interactive talks by curator Eric Ripert and his well-known friends including regulars Anthony Bourdain and Jose Andres, hosted at the Ritz-Carlton and other venues. There was a wide choice of concurrent events and highlights were aplenty. The weekend got under way with Thursday, 17 January’s wine auction dinner, presented by Jacques Scott and chefs of the Ritz-Carlton. Then the demonstrations began in earnest the following morning. Because the Cookout is an intimate experience, with seats at the demos kept to a manageable level, attendees often took the opportunity to meet with the chefs and interact with them on a casual basis.
Andres as ever was in ebullient mood for his first event, which took place on Friday, 18 January at 10am in the middle of Seven Mile Beach at the Landmark/Justin Beach Pavilion. The celebrated Spanish chef made quite the entry – by jet pack, no less. He proceeded then to create two enormous paellas over fire pits dug in the white sand and delighted the audience with his lively presentation. Even the sea came to visit, with unusually high waves necessitating a swift re-digging of the fire pits. Andres joked that Neptune himself wanted a bite of paella. Nobody could have blamed the Roman god of water had that been the case – the dish was rich and delicious.
A lunch highlight of the first full day was Into the Garden with David Kinch, hosted by the Brasserie. The double Michelin-starred chef is notable for his farm-to-table style and he brought the feel of California to Caymanian ingredients, paired with wines from Landmark Vineyards wines, which along with Justin wines were a central feature of this year’s event.
Star chef Spike Mendelsohn is one of the more recognisable faces on the scene at the moment and he took the audience through something ostensibly simple but very difficult in fact – the pizza. His mushroom slices were elevated by the indulgent shaving of black truffle on top. Apparently, Mr. Mendelsohn had once seen Eric Ripert at a demonstration nonchalantly pulling the very expensive ingredient out of his pocket to add to a dish and from that day, Mendelsohn vowed to do the same. An ambition realised.
Sherry Yard’s demonstration followed. Entitled The Sweet Life, it involved the renowned pastry chef creating a strudel from scratch. The skill involved in stretching a lump of pastry out to a 6ft by 4ft transparent sheet was incredible to behold; a special moment of classic technique which was not lost on the audience, who lapped it up even as the waves lapped at the feet of the chef herself. A light moment was shared, too, as a sand crab came scuttling across the floor to work out exactly who these people were disturbing his well-earned sleep. Audience members reported later seeing the creature with tell-tale pastry crumbs on his claws, but reports could not be verified at the time of going to press.
Friday night ended with a special beach barbecue and Saturday began with Burgers in Paradise, during which chef Mendelsohn joined curator Eric Ripert for snorkelling at Stingray City then a selection of burgers at Rum Point. Mr. Mendelsohn revealed he had many Cayman links, having studied with a number of Caymanians whilst at college.
On Saturday, 19 January David Kinch popped up again with a very welcome masterclass on the art of slow cooking on a barbecue. He noted that traditionally, browning a piece of meat was done on a high heat. This, however, was not ideal as it shocked and burnt the meat rather than inducing the caramelisation process. Better, he said, to use a slow heat and turn often. This was achieved with a Frenched rack of lamb on a relatively cool barbecue grill over forty minutes of cooking. Chef Kinch emphasised that it was important to retain the good juices and therefore resting meat for a significant time after taking it off the heat was vital. The worst thing to do, he told guests, was to cut too early and leave the juices and flavour on the cutting board. Interestingly, he did not pre-salt the lamb, because that also would serve to draw out juices. All seasoning happened following the cooking and resting.
A demonstration that was somewhat inaptly-named was Restorative Rhum with Adam Seger. The engaging drink expert took guests through the tastings of five rums: Havana Club 7; Governor’s Special Reserve; Tortuga 12 Year; Ron Zacapa XO and El Dorado 21. He spoke of how to unlock sweetness in the rum by adding an ice cube and said it was important to ‘drink like you eat.’ That is to say, when using rum as a mixer in a cocktail the quality of it dictated the quality of the drink, much as quality ingredients dictated the quality of a meal.
Mr. Seger said that rum years were ‘like dog years’ when compared to aged whiskies. This was because greater evaporation took place in the tropics, which made rum more vibrant and added depth quicker than where whiskies are generally stored, in cold countries. This echoed chef Kinch’s words about controlling heat and therefore evaporation of water to reduce volume and concentrate flavours.
Saturday night saw the Ultimate Dinner Party at Camana Bay, with three restaurants welcoming guest chefs to their kitchens. Sunday was all about the brunches and the cooking competition with the famous gala dinner in the evening rounding off another successful Cookout.
Please check out Friday’s Weekender for much more on the Ultimate Dinner Party and future issues of the Journal for more on the Cookout.
Editor’s note: More pictures from Cayman Cookout 2013 can be found here.